Asbestos is a deadly material, killing over 5000 people a year in the UK, but historically, it was widely used across all sorts of industries due to its strong, waterproof and fire-resistant qualities. It was heavily used in construction, for fire-proof suits, and on ship yards, killing thousands from asbestos related diseases, including popular actor and race-car driver Steve McQueen.

Here is the timeline on how asbestos went from being widely used to being banned in the UK.

In 1906, Dr Montague Murray gave evidence to the Departmental Committee on Industrial Diseases of the death of a man from an asbestos related condition.

In 1924, Nellie Kershaw from Rochdale became the first reported medical case of an asbestos related death due to asbestosis, after working at Turner Brothers Asbestos as a rover spinner.

In 1928, the Government Factory Inspector’s Report noted cases involving asbestos exposure causing asbestosis, a type of pulmonary fibrosis.

In March 1930, Dr Merewether and Mr Price presented to Parliament the Government Factory Inspector’s Report, “Occurrence of Pulmanory Fibrosis & Other Pulmonary Affections in Asbestos Workers”, where they concluded there was a definite occupational risk in the asbestos industry for asbestosis.

On March 1st 1932, the Asbestos Industry Regulations 1931 came into force, which sought to control the amount of asbestos dust in factories.

By 1937, the Factories Act 1937 came into force.

In July 1939, the Factory Inspectors Annual Report of 1938 was published, citing “There can be no doubt that dust, if inhaled, is physiologically undesirable. Moreover dust that is thought today to be harmless may, following research, be viewed in another light to-morrow. It is not many years ago when the dust of asbestos was regarded as innocuous while to-day it is recognised as highly dangerous.

In 1952, Nora Dockerty’s family were the first to receive compensation for death from an asbestos related disease in the UK; she worked at Turner Brothers Asbestos in Rochdale for 13 ½ years.

In 1955, renown scientist Richard Doll’s published report, “Mortality from Lung Cancer in Asbestos Workers”, showcased a link between asbestos dust and cancer, citing “Lung cancer is a specific hazard of certain asbestos workers”.

In 1959, the Factories Act 1959 passed.

In 1960, pathologist Chris Wagner report, “Diffuse Mesothelioma and Asbestos Exposure in the North Western Cape Province”, highlighted a clear link between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma, an asbestos-related cancer.

On March 31st 1961, the Shipbuilding and Ship-Repairing Regulations 1960 came into force, which sought to control the use of asbestos in the shipbuilding industry.

On April 1st 1962, the Factories Act 1961 came into force.

In 1964, Turner & Newall’s solicitors warned the directors: “We have, over the years, been able to talk our way out of claims but we have always recognised that at some stage, solicitors of experience … would, with the advance in medical knowledge and the development of the law … recognise there is no real defence to these claims and take us to trial.”

In 1965, a report by Dr Muriel Newhouse and Hilda Thompson established a link between mesothelioma and domestic exposure to asbestos, citing, “There seems to be little doubt that the risk of mesothelioma may arise from both occupational and domestic exposure to asbestos”. This was approximately ten years after Richard Doll’s published report, “Mortality from Lung Cancer in Asbestos Workers”.

On October 31st 1965, “Scientists track down killer dust disease” was the headline on the front page of The Sunday Times newspaper, with the article reporting a link between mesothelioma and low level asbestos exposure, such as from clothing.

On May 14th 1970, the Asbestos Regulations 1969 came into force, imposing much stricter rules and applied to significantly more work with asbestos. A voluntary ban on the import of crocidolite (blue asbestos) was also introduced in the UK.

On June 28th 1971, “The Dust at Acre Mill”, a television documentary was released on the dangerous use of asbestos at Cape’s asbestos factory in Hebden Bridge.

In 1974, the Health & Safety at Work Act was introduced.

In 1980, a voluntary ban on amosite (brown asbestos) was introduced in the UK.

On July 20th 1982, Yorkshire TV aired prime time documentary, “Alice – A Fight For Life”, sparking public and political debate around asbestos use in the UK. Alice Jefferson suffered from mesothelioma; her exposure to asbestos was while working at Cape’s Asbestos Mill, Acre Mill.

In 1983, the Asbestos Licensing Regulations was introduced.

In 1985, the Asbestos (Prohibitions) Regulations 1985 were introduced and subsequently banned the importation of amosite (brown) and crocidolite (blue) asbestos into the UK.

In 1987, the Control of Asbestos At Work Regulations was introduced, giving greater protection to employees.

In 1993, the groundbreaking cases of Margereson and Hancock v JW Roberts Limited were heard, where the Judge held that since 1933, JW Roberts should have known that children playing near their asbestos factory in Armley, Leeds, would be exposed to the risk of developing asbestos related diseases.

In 1999, the Asbestos (Prohibition) (Amendment) Regulations 1999 came into force, resulting in the banning of chrysotile (white asbestos) in the UK.

On October 1st 2001, Federal Mogul (U.K) Group (previously the T&N Group) went in to administration. In October 2006, the T&N Asbestos Trustee Company Limited began paying claims made against two trusts, which were established to pay damages to those exposed to asbestos by T&N’s companies.

In 2002, the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002 came into force.

In 2002, for the case of Fairchild v Glenhaven Funeral Services Limited, The House of Lords decided that a mesothelioma sufferer was entitled to damages from any person who had exposed them to asbestos, when they could show that the exposure to asbestos had materially increased the risk of them developing mesothelioma, since science could not prove when a person had been exposed to asbestos, in more than one place, or which exposure had caused the said mesothelioma.

In 2004, The Court of Appeal heard the case of Maguire v Harland and Wolff and decided that a shipbuilding company could not have known that a wife washing her husband’s overalls that were covered in asbestos dust, in the period 1960 to 1965, would be at risk of developing an asbestos related disease.

In 2006, section three of The Compensation Act 2006 reverse Barker v Corus (UK) Plc, which cited a mesothelioma sufferer is entitled to their damages in full from any person who negligently exposed them to asbestos.

In 2006, the House of Lord’s decided following Fairchild that whilst a mesothelioma sufferer was entitled to damages for mesothelioma, where the sufferer had been exposed to asbestos with more than one person, each person only had to pay their share and not 100% of the damages. This meant if a mesothelioma sufferer could not trace all the people who had exposed him or her to asbestos or their insurers then they would not receive full compensation.

In 2006, the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 come into force.

In 2006, The Court of Appeal heard Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council v MMI, and decided that in a public liability claim, which is one where the exposure to asbestos was not from work, the correct public liability insurer was the one on cover 10 years before the mesothelioma sufferer developed symptoms.

In 2007, Rice & Thompson v Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and another – The Court of Appeal found the National Dock Labour Board (The Government) owed a duty of care to dockworkers working in the Liverpool Dock who were exposed to asbestos.

In 2007, the House of Lords heard the pleural plaques test cases, Rothwell v Chemical & Insulating Co Ltd, and thus decided that pleural plaques were not applicable for compensation.

In 2008, the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme 2008 came into force, which allowed anyone diagnosed with mesothelioma who was exposed to asbestos in the UK to receive a one-off lump sum payment from the Government.

In 2011, the Supreme Court decided, after hearing Willmore v Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council, that a mesothelioma sufferer did not have to show that their exposure to asbestos with any person doubled the risk of them developing mesothelioma compared to the risk of the risk of them developing mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos from the general environment, after Diane Willmore had been exposed to asbestos whilst attending secondary school in the 1970’s and later developed mesothelioma.

On 28th March 2012, the Supreme Court gave their decision in 6 cases together called The Trigger Litigation. The Supreme Court had been asked to interpret insurance policies which had been entered into between employers who exposed their employees to asbestos and their Employers Liability Insurers. The Supreme Court decided that the insurance company who insured an employer at the time a mesothelioma sufferer was exposed to asbestos was the insurance company that should pay damages.

In 2012, The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 came into force.

In 2014, The Mesothelioma Act 2014 gave the Government the power to establish The Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme 2014. This scheme makes damages payments to those who have developed mesothelioma from being wrongly exposed to asbestos at work but their employer no longer exists and no insurer has been found.

On 6th April 2015, the new Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM 2015) came into force replacing CDM 2007. Most of the changes in the new regulations do not directly affect the way asbestos is treated in construction projects. However, there were three changes that construction managers will need to be aware of.

1) Maintenance or refurbishment activities that may disturb asbestos

2) Asbestos removal or encapsulating works

3) construction projects that may require asbestos to be removed or encapsulated as part of the construction phase.

In 2016, HSE figures stated 2595 UK mesothelioma deaths and estimated that there were, in addition, a similar number of deaths due to asbestos related lung cancer.

On May 16th 2017 at 8:46AM, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) posted that the regulation of asbestos in Great Britain is fit for purpose and needs little change. Following the review, there is only one specific change proposed to the regulations themselves and this will not be enacted immediately.

On 15th February 2018, new asbestos regulations came into force whereby any Licensed Asbestos Removal Contractors (LARCs) should complete a new ‘Handover Form’ on completion of the cleaning of an asbestos enclosure or work area. This should be given to the Analyst before the 4-Stage clearance starts.

We will continue to update this as developments arise as best we can.

If you believe you may have asbestos on your commercial or private property, you have a legal responsibility to manage it. ESSS, a UKAS and ISO accredited asbestos consultancy, is equipped to determine the extent of your asbestos and develop a plan for the management and/or removal. Contact us today at 01268 755 464 or by visiting

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